Bob Hawking takes his Cal State Fullerton basketball team into the Big West Conference tournament this week, not knowing what his status will be once the playoffs end.
But it isn’t likely that Hawking’s fate will be based solely on what happens in the tournament, although a victory over UC Irvine in the first round certainly would be a plus for Hawking’s hopes of keeping his job.
No decision is expected until at least late March.
Regardless, the winner of Thursday’s game won’t be helped by the pairings, and will have to face Utah State, the top-seeded team and the conference’s regular-season champion, in the second round Friday.
But even one victory may be a lot to ask of the battered Titans, who are 7-19 and hard-hit by injuries to guard Chris St. Clair and forward David Frigout. Even Chris Dade, who continues to play, is at less than full strength because of an ankle injury sustained two weeks ago.
Fullerton’s best hope is that history somehow will keep repeating itself. The Titans are 5-0 against Irvine in Big West and Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. tournament play.
The question is whether the Titans can approach the form that carried them to a 74-68 victory over the Anteaters in January at the Bren Center and overcome the problems they had in a 91-83 loss to visiting Irvine Saturday night.
Several things worked in Fullerton’s favor in the first meeting.
The Titans shot well, hitting 47.1% compared to 43.3% for the Anteaters. Guard James French was five of 11 and Dade was four of six on three-point shots. In the last meeting, French was three of 12 and Dade two of six from the field.
In the first game, Fullerton also was able to control Irvine point guard Raimonds Miglinieks, who ranks third in the nation in assists. He was held to a season-low two assists and was four of 11 from the field. Saturday night he made six of 10 from the field, 11 of 12 free throws and set up 10 other field goals with his target-splitting passing.
“We’ve got to find a way to neutralize Raimonds,” Hawking said. “He has a great understanding of his role with that team, and it’s really tough for us when he gets 25 points and 10 assists.”
Hawking said the other key factor will be rebounding. In the first game, each team had 24 defensive rebounds. Irvine had a 27-20 advantage Saturday.
“When you look at it, rebounding has probably been our Achilles’ heel all season,” Hawking said. “We’re last in the Big West in rebounding with a minus-seven rebounds per game compared to our opponents. That’s a very telling statistic.”
One of the most encouraging aspects for Hawking has been the recent play of Chuck Overton. “There’s no question that Chuck is playing his best basketball of the season right now,” Hawking said. “He’s come up to the level of the competition. He was frustrated for a while because things weren’t going as well for him as they were when he was in junior college. But he’s learned a lot this season and he’s become an effective player.”
Overton had 26 points and the other forward, Dave Harrison, had 13 Saturday.
The Titans also would benefit from a strong finish by French, who averages 10 points but has shot only 31.5% for the season.
“James basically is an off-guard, rather than a point guard, but when Danny (Robinson) was ineligible for the first semester and Ali (Nayab) was injured, we had no other choice but to move James into the point,” Hawking said.
“He assumed that role for the betterment of the team and didn’t complain, and I respect that.”
The Fullerton baseball team remains No. 1 in the nation in the Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball polls after after winning two of three at Texas over the weekend. That gives the Titans (17-3) a 4-1 record for the season against the Longhorns, who lost to Fullerton in the Anaheim Hilton & Towers tournament championship game. The Titans are home for a three-game series against Gonzaga beginning Friday. Mark Kotsay leads the Titans with a .456 average. . . . The Titan softball team is ranked fourth in the poll conducted by the National Softball Coaches Assn. Arizona is ranked first, followed by UCLA and Fresno State.